Contract Approved With Guemes Island Ferry Workers

The Skagit County Board of County Commissioners approved on Monday a four-year contract with Guemes Island Ferry Workers.

Ferry workers had been working without a contract since Jan. 1, 2022 and as a result wages were locked at 2021 levels, although the local cost of living increased 8% in early 2023 alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The new contract covers the period from Jan. 1, 2022 to Dec. 31, 2025. Here’s a look at what the contract guarantees.

  • 2022: a wage increase of 5% retroactive to Jan. 1 that year.
  • 2023: a wage increase of 3%, retroactive to Jan. 1. 
  • 2024: a wage increase of 2%.
  • 2025: a wage increase of 4%.
  • A change in contract language regarding shift rotation. Full-time employees have customarily worked day shifts; part-time and on-call employees have customarily worked night shifts. The contract now specifies that putting full-time employees on night rotation is not required, but is optional."  
  • Language that specifies the ferry manager cannot drive the vessel in place of a union captain, unless a union captain is not available. 

On-call and part-time purser-deckhands also receive a wage adjustment of 10.8% in 2023, retroactive to Jan. 1; the masters, or captains, and full-time purser-deckhands will receive a 7% wage adjustment, also retroactive to Jan. 1. The wage adjustment is designed to correct past substandard wage increases. The starting hourly wage for purser-deckhands had increased from $18.43 in 2009 to $21.38 in 2021 – a total of $2.95 an hour – and the wage topped out at $27.20.

“We thank the County Commission for its vote today,” contract negotiator Guy Mitchell, a ferry captain, said after the commission’s vote. “It was a difficult, lengthy process to get to this point, and we are committed to working with the county to get future contracts approved in a more efficient manner – one that is less costly to the county and the public we serve.” 

Union steward Richard Walker added, “A good contract is good for ferry workers and it’s good for the county. It sets ground rules and makes clear our responsibilities to each other. It helps inform spending decisions and financial planning of 18 human beings on the payroll. It’s an important, legally binding document and we believe our negotiating team and the county can work together on future contracts as partners for progress, and not as adversaries.”

Peter Hart, Puget Sound regional director of the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific, thanked members of the community – including state Sen. Liz Lovelett, D-Anacortes – and members of the IBU and other unions for speaking out in favor of a fair contract and livable wage for Guemes Island Ferry Workers. 

“Your support was invaluable,” Hart said. “Thank you for standing up for economic justice for the Guemes Island Ferry crew and their families. These crew members are dedicated mariners who stand ready to serve in all hours, in all weather, and they ask only for fair and adequate compensation in return.” 

Guemes Island Ferry Workers are represented by the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific. Contract negotiators were Hart, Mitchell and Purser-Deckhand Emily Grober. The county was represented by Bonnie Beddall, human resources director; Fred Haist, deputy prosecuting attorney; and Robert Braun, a labor consultant from Woodinville.

Hart thanked Grober, Mitchell and Walker for their work on behalf of the crew.

“It's never easy to be involved in negotiations for any bargaining unit, big or small, because you're essentially being asked to worry about the livelihoods of the whole group,” Hart said. “They're not just co-workers or fellow mariners. They're living, breathing members of our community and their welfare is our welfare.” 

22 months without contract

The ferry workers’ contract negotiators approached the county about negotiating a new contract in October 2021, two months before the contract then in effect was set to expire. 

Ferry workers rejected the county’s first contract offer because wage increases – 2% in 2022 and 3% in 2023 -- were less than those offered other county employees and because a proposed wage adjustment did not equally benefit all ferry workers. 

Braun asked to go to mediation in March 2023. Ferry workers voted against mediation, saying they wanted to continue to negotiate. Braun notified the union that the county considered the contract negotiations at an impasse. 

The county conducted wage studies for all departments and adjusted wages for those workers accordingly, but ferry workers later learned that the county did not include them in the study. 

Guemes Island Ferry Workers conducted informational pickets in March and April and, spurred by the impasse and by a unilateral change in how the ferry manager schedules shifts, staged a day of action on May 1. Ferry workers picketed in the intersection of 6th Street and I Avenue -- off county property -- and the ferry did not operate that day, though ferry workers stood by to operate the ferry in the event of an emergency.

A mediator was assigned by the state Public Employment Relations Commission in June.

Contracts between the county and its bargaining units are generally for three years. Ferry workers approved extending this contract to the end of 2025, since a three-year contract would expire in 14 months. It’s the second consecutive contract between the county and ferry workers that has been extended a year. 

At least 4,224 round trips a year

The Guemes Island Ferry has been owned by Skagit County since the mid-1960s, but a ferry has served Guemes Island since 1890. The current ferry, the M/V Guemes, makes 4,224 round trips a year -- not including doubles and after-hours trips for medical emergencies and power outages.

There are currently 18 crew members on the roster: four captains (one full-time, two part-time, and one emergency on-call); 13 purser-deckhands (four full-time, three part-time, and six on-call); and one full-time mechanic. Two part-time purser-deckhands are also qualified to serve as captains.

Crew members are certified in first aid, CPR and hazardous materials handling; and they regularly conduct drills in abandoning ship, flooding, overboard rescue, and shipboard firefighting. 

Submitted by Guemes Island Ferry Workers, a bargaining unit of the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific Puget Sound Region.

Tags: ferry